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Hypothetical Astronomy
November 20, 2009 8:44 AM   Subscribe

How would the Earth look if it had a ring system like Saturn?
posted by DU (123 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

 
Stupid moon, keeping us from having cool stuff!
posted by blue_beetle at 8:46 AM on November 20, 2009


Don't worry, it's just a matter of getting enough space junk up there.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 8:48 AM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


How would the Earth look if it had legs like people?
posted by popcassady at 8:53 AM on November 20, 2009 [14 favorites]


How would the Earth look if it had legs like people?

Have you ever really looked at your thumb?
posted by jquinby at 8:55 AM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


It takes about a minute to get past "well, duh," but then it's pretty cool.
posted by cribcage at 8:56 AM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


It sounds cool now, but you just know corporations would end up projecting gigantic ads on it.
posted by mccarty.tim at 8:56 AM on November 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


MetaFilter: It takes about a minute to get past "well, duh"
posted by DU at 8:56 AM on November 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


What would it look like if it had Klingons like my anus? HAR.

Wait.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:58 AM on November 20, 2009 [5 favorites]


Well, if we got off our ass and blew up the moon properly then we could have rings.
posted by Kattullus at 8:58 AM on November 20, 2009 [8 favorites]


Now I'm bitter that we don't have rings. Let's make this happen, people!
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 8:59 AM on November 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


Let's put some engineers on this. Besides looking cool, they'd stop global warming (by absorbing a mess of sunlight).
posted by beagle at 8:59 AM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Gorgeous imagery, but I can't help but think that superimposing a ring system on top of a modern Earth is completely unrealistic. I would imagine that such a ring system would vastly alter the mythos of every single culture on Earth, radically changing today's end result, yes, I believe even architecturally. A ring system of beans, I suppose.

Well, all except Norse mythology would change - the rings would probably BE the Bifrost Bridge!
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 8:59 AM on November 20, 2009 [5 favorites]


Sucks for the latitude that will never see day due to the shadow. It would be interesting to see what life looks like in a temperate altitude that experiences polar night/day cycles.
posted by geoff. at 9:00 AM on November 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


temperate latitude
posted by geoff. at 9:01 AM on November 20, 2009


If God liked it then He should have put a ring on it.
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:02 AM on November 20, 2009 [103 favorites]


No way! Rings are stupid. Didn't you see the thing? It would reflect the moonlight and light up the night like some blasted celestial glowstick. I have a hard enough time sleeping as it is without a bunch of stupid rings ruining the darkness.

Plus, more species would have adapted to a nocturnal lifestyle, leading to an increase in great, hulking nocturnal predators. So, yeah, less sleep and giant night beasts. No thanks.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 9:03 AM on November 20, 2009 [7 favorites]


What would your bathtub look like if it had a ring?
posted by chavenet at 9:03 AM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Can we get one!? Can we get one!? What are we using the moon for anyway?
And we probably wouldn't even need to use the whole thing...
posted by Blasdelb at 9:03 AM on November 20, 2009


Let's do it. Who's with me!?
posted by rainy at 9:03 AM on November 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Damn Blasdelb :(
posted by rainy at 9:04 AM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Stunning! The buildings in some of those cities were beautiful too. I have this recording of Ave Maria as an mp3 and I have no idea where I got it. Does anyone know who recorded it?
posted by Mike Buechel at 9:05 AM on November 20, 2009


This is nifty, but I was hoping for a proper night shot. Contrary to what we see at about 2:55 to 3:00 of the video, the section of the rings in the planetary shadow would not just be somewhat dim, it would be quite dark. The segment still in light would be refelcting light like the moon, but there would be sharp line where it disappeared into shadow. Through an atmosphere, I would imagine that segment to be indistinguishable from the night sky, save for the dimming or occultataion of stars behind it. In other words, at night it often would not look like the arc we see in the daytime shots, but like the blade of God's own scimitar raised high above the horizon.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:05 AM on November 20, 2009 [12 favorites]


Plus, more species would have adapted to a nocturnal lifestyle, leading to an increase in great, hulking nocturnal predators. So, yeah, less sleep and giant night beasts. No thanks.

Ooh, so you mean there'd be like heartbreakingly beautiful, glitter-spangled vampires? Ooooh, yes, yessy, yes, yes! I want rings!
posted by Naberius at 9:05 AM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


WANT.
posted by maudlin at 9:06 AM on November 20, 2009


Gorgeous imagery, but I can't help but think that superimposing a ring system on top of a modern Earth is completely unrealistic. I would imagine that such a ring system would vastly alter the mythos of every single culture on Earth, radically changing today's end result, yes, I believe even architecturally.

Or what catpiehurts said, on non-preview.

I think it would also have changed scientific thought a great deal... the notion that the earth is a sphere hanging in space might have occurred a lot sooner if we saw its shadow every night, rather than only during lunar eclipses.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:08 AM on November 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


It would be covered in graffiti by now, unless we'd already blown it up.
posted by cccorlew at 9:08 AM on November 20, 2009


I was skeptical at first but now I'm a bit disapointed that we don't have one.

Great infomercial!
posted by Artw at 9:10 AM on November 20, 2009


No Great Red Spot? Lame.
posted by digsrus at 9:16 AM on November 20, 2009


Sucks for the latitude that will never see day due to the shadow

Earth tilts on its axis, so wouldn't everywhere get some sunlight, at least seasonally? If the rings are like Saturn's, then they should tilt with the Earth, so I think that places that are shadowed in the winter would be in sunlight during the summer. Basically the shadowed areas would have an even greater seasonal temperature variation than usual, going from a polar winter to a normal summer.
posted by jedicus at 9:17 AM on November 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


Would the rings be the same color(s) as Saturn's? That threw me off from the out-in-space views, not so much from the simulated surface of a ringed-Earth.
posted by WolfDaddy at 9:19 AM on November 20, 2009


OK, two thoughts...

How would the discoveries made by the ancient mariners be changed because of the different methods of navigation made possible by the rings?

and...

HEY! What about rings around Ura... uh... nevermind.
posted by Drasher at 9:24 AM on November 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


But what would it look like with frosting and candles?
posted by asfuller at 9:25 AM on November 20, 2009


such a ring system would vastly alter the mythos of every single culture on Earth

It would do much worse than this. Human life as we know it would probably not exist, never mind mythos. The amount of light attenuation by the debris ring would greatly reduce the primary photosynthetic production of the temperate zones, and shorten the growing periods drastically. Imagine a northern hemisphere winter that is as dark as an arctic winter, and you'd get the picture. This would have hampered agricultural efforts enough that I doubt humans would've gotten from stone axes to the interwebs in 10k years. I'll keep the moon, thanks.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 9:25 AM on November 20, 2009 [8 favorites]


Cool concept, but I'm wondering if the execution is accurate. For one thing, I think the views from Earth was just a Photoshop, not a rendering based on actual light physics (which would probably be really hard), and the space views are just simple renderings using a sphere, disc and point light source.

Some questions I thought about while watching:
1) What would it look like if the ring were between you and the sun? Would the ring cast a visible shadow?
2) Would the ring appear to sparkle from individual ice chunks or would it look more less uniform?
3) Is there a scenario where you could see the reflected light of the moon in the shadowed rings at night?
4) How much illumination would the rings provide at night?
5) What color would the rings be?
posted by justkevin at 9:25 AM on November 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


How would the Earth look if it had a ring system like Saturn?

Flagged as hypothetical filt- nevermind.
posted by battlebison at 9:25 AM on November 20, 2009


(yeah, what jedicus said.)
posted by kuujjuarapik at 9:26 AM on November 20, 2009


yeah I was going to chime in on the same theme as cat pie hurts. would be quite interesting.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:27 AM on November 20, 2009


Sucks for the latitude that will never see day due to the shadow.

The dense main rings extend from 7,000 km to 80,000 km above Saturn's equator, with an estimated local thickness of only 10 meters,

it would have no effect on climate at all
posted by pyramid termite at 9:30 AM on November 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


I vote no ring. Too weird. Too much would change. Unintended consequences. Wasn't it bad enough when Chairface Chippendale etched those giant letters on the moon back in the mid-nineties?
posted by smrtsch at 9:31 AM on November 20, 2009 [7 favorites]


The amount of light attenuation by the debris ring would greatly reduce the primary photosynthetic production of the temperate zones, and shorten the growing periods drastically.

i hadn't considered that, but wouldn't the reflected light during the night hours make up for it?
posted by pyramid termite at 9:32 AM on November 20, 2009


The lack of photosynthesis aside, I love this stuff and have long wondered how, say, having a twin moon would have affected culture, or having a sufficiently close moon that would have called into question the idea that celestial bodies were "perfect" (I'm looking at Aristotle, here) and so on. I mean, how could early man *not* give the rings a divine significance? The navigation question is really intriguing, too.
posted by joe lisboa at 9:33 AM on November 20, 2009


I would imagine that such a ring system would vastly alter the mythos of every single culture on Earth, radically changing today's end result, yes, I believe even architecturally.

I thought about that during the Rio shot with Jesus on a mountain. You could probably make some pretty cool apparent effects with that.
posted by DU at 9:33 AM on November 20, 2009


If photosynthesis is a problem, just move the planet closer to the Sun (or make the Sun brighter).

In any case, the ring's shadow would move throughout the day. It would be more like a daily lunar eclipse than perpetual night.

As for the extreme darkness of the enshadowed ring itself: moonglow could keep it slightly lit, just like earthglow keeps the shadowed part of the moon lit now.
posted by DU at 9:37 AM on November 20, 2009


No Great Red Spot? Lame.

Yeah just give us a few years on that one.
posted by hermitosis at 9:39 AM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


it would have no effect on climate at all

Even cloud cover has an effect on climate. Light attenuation on a cloudy day can knock back photosynthesis as much as 50-90%. Now imagine that it lasts for several months out of the year. Of course there will be climactic effects.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 9:40 AM on November 20, 2009


Pfft. It's no bacon-infused onion ring.
posted by stormpooper at 9:41 AM on November 20, 2009


Wouldn't all that stuff cause a bit of a tidal bulge around the equator?
posted by Sys Rq at 9:43 AM on November 20, 2009


Moon-schmoon. I'll take man-made satellites over a ring, thanks. It would be pretty damn hard to get geosynchronous communication and imaging birds up there with all that stone and ice floating around.
posted by GuyZero at 9:44 AM on November 20, 2009


Hmm. I wonder how having a ring would have affected early nautical navigation; would we have progressed faster by having such a uniformly visible land... er... skymark?
posted by quin at 9:44 AM on November 20, 2009


I thought of that too, but unless there were geostationary debris bits in the ring I think it wouldn't help much with longitude.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 9:47 AM on November 20, 2009


here's a paper proposing an artificial ring to offset global warming, so i guess it would have an effect on climate
posted by pyramid termite at 9:48 AM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


How would the Earth look if it had legs like people?

Rule 34 says it would look sexy.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:52 AM on November 20, 2009


Two thoughts:

1) Jared Diamond has argued in Guns, Germs, and Steel that a primarily lateral orientation caused Eurasia to advance. How would rings have created a cultural longitudinal orientation and thereby altered development?

2) Would Australia have been discovered before America, given the incentive to follow the rings southward rather than the trade westward?
posted by jefficator at 9:56 AM on November 20, 2009


"follow the rings southward"?
posted by DU at 9:58 AM on November 20, 2009


I was all prepared to snark on this--what would the Earth look like if it wore a gigantic silk top hat, cocked at a jaunty angle?--until the perspective from the Earth surface. Ooh, pretty.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:03 AM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Here's a better question:

How would the calendar be different?

How would the development of mythology and religion have been different?
posted by empath at 10:06 AM on November 20, 2009


How would the Earth look if it had a ring system like Saturn?

Here's an even better question:

When did "How" start meaning "What"?
posted by JaredSeth at 10:11 AM on November 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


"How would it look" == "What would it look like"
posted by DU at 10:16 AM on November 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


HEY! What about rings around Ura... uh... nevermind.

I believe you mean Klingons.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 10:19 AM on November 20, 2009


"How would it look" == "What would it look like"

NetpickFilter: right, but the title is "How would it look like..." which is nails-on-chalkboard territory for me.
posted by joe lisboa at 10:22 AM on November 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


Did that guy just say rings are cool?
posted by hellphish at 10:25 AM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


How does it feel like...?
posted by Sys Rq at 10:26 AM on November 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


OK, that was very nice. Mmmm.....rings.
posted by jquinby at 10:34 AM on November 20, 2009


How would the Earth look if it had legs like people?

The right question would be: What would the moon look like if it had legs like people?

And: Do we have any hope of chopping them off before it devours us all?
posted by Anything at 10:34 AM on November 20, 2009


Jefficator, the rings go east-west, following the equator. Mr. Diamond's theories would stand. And I doubt they'd be affected anyway, as rings don't make it any easier to transport domesticated crops and animals on a north-south axis.
posted by echo target at 10:39 AM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Very pretty, but wouldn't the moon cause tidal aberrations, as seen around Saturn (cassini probe)?
posted by anigbrowl at 10:42 AM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


OK I think I'm sold, where do I sign for us to get one?
posted by MrBobaFett at 10:42 AM on November 20, 2009


Jared Diamond has argued in Guns, Germs, and Steel that a primarily lateral orientation caused Eurasia to advance. How would rings have created a cultural longitudinal orientation and thereby altered development?

My understanding is that Diamond's theory is predicted on the similarity of climate along a lateral orientation. To white, the climate in Paris is more similar to the climate in, say, Magadan than the climate in Punta Arenas is to Panama. The similarity in climate allowed farming technology to be spread more evenly and quickly.

I may be completely misreading Diamond, though.
posted by Joey Michaels at 10:44 AM on November 20, 2009


Sorry - "is predicted" should be "is predicated." Teaches me to use five dollar words.
posted by Joey Michaels at 10:44 AM on November 20, 2009


The important point demonstrated by this video is that if the Earth had rings, the whole world would burst out singing in praise of Mary and the fruit of her womb.

In Latin.
posted by straight at 10:48 AM on November 20, 2009 [5 favorites]


Do we have any hope of chopping them off before it devours us all?

If the moon is eating with its human-like legs, then its human-like legs aren't human-like enough.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:49 AM on November 20, 2009


No, Joey Michaels, you have Diamond right. Crops and livestock could easily spread from France to China. Therefore, people and ideas could as well. Between the temperate areas of Argentina and the eastern United States, however, are deserts, mountains, jungles and a very narrow isthmus. This created isloated pockets of people that had limited contact with each other.

One example: Written language in Sumer influenced Egypt, which influenced Phonecians and the whole region. In a few milenia, you had written Greek and the Western alphabet was off an running. The Maya had a written language; but it never spread to the Aztecs, the Incas or the North American Indians.

I don't see how North-South rings would affect this.
posted by spaltavian at 10:55 AM on November 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


I thought of that too, but unless there were geostationary debris bits in the ring I think it wouldn't help much with longitude

The rings themselves would obviously be an instant compass and latitude marker; measure the visible height of the ring, and you know how far north or south you are. The only time you'd ever need a compass would be when you were crossing that line. It's possible that it would be visibly different from the two sides, because of the inclination of the Earth to the Sun, meaning compasses wouldn't be useful at all.

I suspect you could probably use the Earth's shadow on the rings, combined with an accurate clock, to figure out your longitude. It would be very much like a sextant. The observation would be much easier, but the underlying math might be a little more complex.

The suggestion that Australia would probably have been found before the US seems pretty reasonable. And it seems quite likely that as soon as we had the ability to travel more than a few hundred miles, we'd have immediately figured out that the world was round. That ring would be like a giant magnet pulling people south, and figuring out that it's a giant disc in the sky would take one trip and about ten minutes of thought by almost anyone, and extrapolating from there to the Earth underneath being a sphere wouldn't take any great insight.

The Moon is hard to relate to real experience; a set of rings would be an instant link to the 3D spaces we're used to, and would have probably accelerated human development quite noticeably.
posted by Malor at 11:04 AM on November 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


The important point demonstrated by this video is that if the Earth had rings, the whole world would burst out singing in praise of Mary and the fruit of her womb.

In Latin.


Actually, it's in German. Here's the (approximate?) translation:

Ave Maria! Maiden mild!
Listen to a maiden's pleading
from these rocks, stark and wild,
my prayer shall be wafted to thee.
we shall sleep safely till morning,
though men be ever so cruel.
o Maiden, see a maiden's distress,
O Mother, hear a suppliant child.

Ave Maria, undefiled!
When we upon this rock lie down
to slumber, and they protection covers us,
The hard stone will seem soft to us.
If Though smilest, the scent of roses will float
Through this murky cavern,
O Mother, hear a child's petition,
O maiden, 'tis a maid that calls!

Ave Maria, Maiden pure,
the demons of the earth and air,
drien forth by thy gracious glance
cannot stay here with us.
we will camly bow to fate
Since they holy comfort hovers over us;
Mayest though be favourably inclined to the maiden,
To the child that pleads for her father!


The original lyric:

Ave Maria! Jungfrau mild,
Erhöre einer Jungfrau Flehen,
Aus diesem Felsen starr und wild
Soll mein Gebet zu dir hinwehen.
Wir schlafen sicher bis zum Morgen,
Ob Menschen noch so grausam sind.
O Jungfrau, sieh der Jungfrau Sorgen,
O Mutter, hör ein bittend Kind!
Ave Maria!

Ave Maria! Unbefleckt!
Wenn wir auf diesen Fels hinsinken
Zum Schlaf, und uns dein Schutz bedeckt
Wird weich der harte Fels uns dünken.
Du lächelst, Rosendüfte wehen
In dieser dumpfen Felsenkluft,
O Mutter, höre Kindes Flehen,
O Jungfrau, eine Jungfrau ruft!
Ave Maria!

Ave Maria! Reine Magd!
Der Erde und der Luft Dämonen,
Von deines Auges Huld verjagt,
Sie können hier nicht bei uns wohnen,
Wir woll'n uns still dem Schicksal beugen,
Da uns dein heil'ger Trost anweht;
Der Jungfrau wolle hold dich neigen,
Dem Kind, das für den Vater fleht.
Ave Maria!

posted by Mike Buechel at 11:05 AM on November 20, 2009 [5 favorites]


Ave Marie was sung by Barbara Bonney.
posted by Mike Buechel at 11:06 AM on November 20, 2009


Send a Third Stage Guild Navigator to Kaitain to demand details from the Emperor.
posted by artaxerxes at 11:12 AM on November 20, 2009


To the question about navigation:
I doubt the rings would have much of a bearing on the development of navigation. It provides a very simple way to determine latitude, but there were a pile of ways to determine latitude already. The really hard trick is longitude, which the rings probably wouldn't help with.
posted by kaibutsu at 11:16 AM on November 20, 2009



So, how would it look like If Though smilest...? Because now I'm really confused.
posted by sneebler at 11:23 AM on November 20, 2009


And thanks for identifying the singer - I thought it was great. And by great I mean not just because it isn't Also Sprach Zarathustra.
posted by sneebler at 11:25 AM on November 20, 2009


Wouldn't all that stuff cause a bit of a tidal bulge around the equator?

I'm no physicist, but I think the answer is no, or at least very very little. Since the mass is spread out around the circumference of the earth, its gravity effect of that mass is dissipated.

Imagine that you're in a boat on the equator, directly under the rings. The part of the ring that would be pulling against the water underneath you would be the combined gravitational pull of all the matter that's right above your head, a slice of the ring. My Ringworld-pedant-math is not up to the task, but I estimate that that's not much mass. The gravitational pull of the moon is significant because it's all glommed together.

More importantly, it seems, is the reverse question: what would be the effect on the Earth of the lack of tidal forces?
posted by dammitjim at 11:36 AM on November 20, 2009


Wow, that arch in Tehran was really, really neat looking.
posted by paisley henosis at 11:38 AM on November 20, 2009


I like German.
posted by grubi at 11:39 AM on November 20, 2009


(sometimes my comments really make me look like the weird kid in A Christmas Story standing in line in front of Ralphie at the department store.)
posted by grubi at 11:39 AM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hmm. I am reminded of an old B.C. comic. Paraphrasing from memory:

BC: The sky is boring. It's all one color all the time. I wish the sky could be all different colors, reds and yellows and greens and blues all swirling around.

How would you like a sky like that?

Curls: Non-toxic.
posted by Herodios at 11:41 AM on November 20, 2009


Stupid moon, keeping us from having cool stuff!

See, this is why we can't have nice rings.
posted by bitteroldman at 11:45 AM on November 20, 2009 [12 favorites]


Neat!
posted by Quietgal at 11:52 AM on November 20, 2009


How would the Earth look if it had a ring system like Saturn?

Much the same if you lived directly below it. It would just give earthbound astronomers another visibility problem to complain about.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 11:54 AM on November 20, 2009


paisley henosis: Wow, that arch in Tehran was really, really neat looking.

Azadi tower, the Gateway Into Iran, apparently. Very neat looking.
posted by paisley henosis at 11:55 AM on November 20, 2009


I like German.

I like Scotch.
posted by The Bellman at 11:57 AM on November 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


So if we had these rings and no moon, would we still have tides?
posted by A-Train at 11:58 AM on November 20, 2009


He went to Jared.
posted by BackwardsHatClub at 12:06 PM on November 20, 2009


So if we had these rings and no moon, would we still have tides?

Yes, but they would all be the same height and wouldn't move.
posted by DU at 12:13 PM on November 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


Hey that was pretty neat.
They screwed up the title at the beginning, though.
How would the earth look like if it had a ring system like Saturn?
Replace the How with a What or drop the Like and it works.
posted by battleshipkropotkin at 12:21 PM on November 20, 2009


......
...
..
.::..
....
..
seven days...
..
.....:::...
....::....
.....
.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 12:29 PM on November 20, 2009


Another "what if" scenario:

Harry Caray: Hey! Now Ken, we all know that the moon is not made of green cheese.
Ken Waller: Yes, that's true Harry.
Harry Caray: But what if it were made of barbeque spare ribs, would you eat it then?
Ken Waller: What?
Harry Caray: I know I would. Heck! I'd have seconds and then polish it off with a tall cool Budweiser. - - - I would do it. Would you?
Ken Waller: I'm confused.
Harry Caray: It's a simple question Dr, would you eat the moon if it were made of ribs?
Ken Waller: I don't know how to answer that.
Harry Caray: It's not rocket science, just say yes and we'll move on.
posted by inigo2 at 12:39 PM on November 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


So if we had these rings and no moon, would we still have tides?

We'd still have solar tides, but they're much much smaller than lunar tides.
posted by Malor at 12:45 PM on November 20, 2009


So if we had these rings and no moon, would we still have tides?

Yes, but they would all be the same height and wouldn't move.


And eventually the geology would shift to approximate the new constant graviational equipotential surface, so these "tides" wouldn't be noticeable except as a change in the oblateness of the Earth. As long as the Earth was still rotating, though, we'd still have tides from the Sun — they'd be about 1/3 as large.

This video makes me wonder what the impact of a ring system would have been on ancient astronomy. I don't think that the existence of the rings themselves would be indicative of a spherical Earth rather than a flat Earth; you could easily cook up a cosmology in which the Earth was a flat disc with the Sun going around it, and the Sun's light was blocked as it passed to the underside of the disc. Under such an interpretation, though, the ring would just a large object suspended in the heavens; it would obviously be closer than the planets and the stars, but still inconceivably distant. Only once you started travelling far enough north & south to notice the change in the angle subtended by the rings would you be able to figure out that the Earth might be curved. Eratosthenes almost certainly would have used ring measurements instead of shadows in wells to figure out the radius of the Earth.
posted by Johnny Assay at 12:56 PM on November 20, 2009


What about the effect on our ability to orbit satllites?

Is there debris knocked or somehw out of the rings? Would areas under the rings be subject to more constant metor showers?
posted by lalochezia at 1:06 PM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, if we got off our ass and blew up the moon properly then we could have rings.

We're earthlings, let's blow up earth things.
posted by Adam_S at 1:10 PM on November 20, 2009


If the Earth had rings, all religion would be based on a heaven that existed on the opposite surface of or antipode of the rings from the side you could see. Then, when travel showed different regions that there was nothing on the other side/antipode, and when the astronauts flew up there and proved there was no heaven, the justifications for why this appeared to be true to science but actually proved nothing would be really, really interesting.
posted by davejay at 1:23 PM on November 20, 2009


We're earthlings, let's blow up earth things.

Don't blow up where you eat.
posted by davejay at 1:24 PM on November 20, 2009


Problem with Madrid, Spain @ 2:30ish-- the clouds appear to be behind the rings. No good.
posted by exlotuseater at 1:27 PM on November 20, 2009


Oh, and there would have been a major architect who promoted the idea of a "celestial school" of design based on the idea that "on the curved surface of the planet, and beneath the embrace of its rings, arced breadth would be a sign of shelter."
posted by davejay at 1:28 PM on November 20, 2009


Actually, the arc as an architectural construct would have been explored much, much earlier in human history as well. Forget the pretty pictures; I think the theological and architectural aspects are much more interesting to speculate about.
posted by davejay at 1:29 PM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'd love to read a detailed extrapolation of the ancient astronomy angle. This sounds like something that a good SF writer might (or perhaps already did) explore.

One thing that occurs to me is that the rings would probably be heterogeneous enough that careful observers (which I assume most ancient people were) would notice artifacts in them and hence their motion. I think this would have had an enormous effect -- the moon is tidally locked, so although it moves it never appears to change, and the other planets are simply dots. I've heard it claimed that the apparent timelessness of all the visible heavenly objects was a profound influence on ancient cosmology, which rings would have probably broken.

I was also thinking about the effect of the Earth's shadow, and while I agree with Johnny Assay that this wouldn't prevent a discworld cosmology, it would make it very clear that the Sun is doing the same thing at night that it does during the day, just in a different place, and that there's presumably an "other side" to the Earth in some form or another. Which, now that I think about it, would probably have generated some pretty awesome stories about the people and events of the "flipside of the world."
posted by bjrubble at 1:35 PM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sys Rq
Wouldn't all that stuff cause a bit of a tidal bulge around the equator?

Yeah, well, uh, I got that bulge...
posted by Drasher at 1:38 PM on November 20, 2009


What about the effect on our ability to orbit satellites?

Saturn's rings have gaps of various sizes, some of which were opened up by orbiting moonlets. I suppose it's not unreasonable to assume that something similar would happen with theoretical Earth rings. Orbital trajectories could be calculated to have satellites share the major axis of a larger moonlet (ie on either end of the axis of the ellipse), or to orbit only within the boundaries of an empty gap.

I'm not sure why I'm assuming that the orbit of the ring material would be more analogous to the earth's movement around then sun than the moon's movement around the earth. It might be time for more caffeine.
posted by elizardbits at 1:54 PM on November 20, 2009


Thinking back on Cassini images I have stared at, I don't think the artist took into account how the "back" (non-sun-lit) side of the rings would look very different (in terms of brightness and contrast) from the sun-lit side -- seems as if some of those images should have been showing the back side of the rings. (Yes, back side. Make another round of Uranus jokes now.)
posted by aught at 2:08 PM on November 20, 2009


"How would the discoveries made by the ancient mariners be changed because of the different methods of navigation made possible by the rings?"

Imagine the light pollution at mid latitudes. Going to make sighting stars difficult.
posted by Mitheral at 2:09 PM on November 20, 2009


Neat. I had not read about the Roche limit prior to this post.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 2:09 PM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Rings, meh. What i would like to know is what the Earth would look like in pants and suspenders.
posted by storybored at 2:50 PM on November 20, 2009


Well, here's what it would look like in boxing attire.
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:52 PM on November 20, 2009


One thing a ring would do is make radio and TV transmission a whole lot easier. Just bounce signals off the ring, and you could broadcast world-wide with comparatively little power.
posted by Kevin Street at 3:28 PM on November 20, 2009


Oh, and as for religious and/or cultural significance - a ring might make early societies even more inclined towards monotheism or at least religious observance than they already were. You can ignore the stars and the moon if you really want to, but a giant freakin' road made of light in the sky is impossible to miss. It would really reinforce the idea that there is another, greater world beyond our own.
posted by Kevin Street at 3:33 PM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


The Moon greatly stabilises the Earth's axial tilt. Without that, the Earth probably wouldn't have had stable seasons over periods of millions of years.
posted by Electric Dragon at 4:55 PM on November 20, 2009


Astronomers / physicists:

Wouldn't all that junk up in orbit mean much more frequent asteroids hitting earth?
posted by Meatbomb at 5:32 PM on November 20, 2009


Not really. The material in the rings would have to be fairly orbitally stable otherwise they wouldn't exist. Plus Saturn's rings are for the most part water ice with a smattering of inpurities. Even a car sized ice cube, the upper limit of Saturn ring particles, isn't going to survive deorbiting instead burning up and exploding.
posted by Mitheral at 5:51 PM on November 20, 2009


It'd be a rather lame ending to Watchmen if instead of creating a gigantic squid out of science, Ozzymandias instead just used his machine to make a ring.

And yet I also wonder if that would somehow create more world peace than killing a ton of people by squid murder. I mean, think about it:

"Hey, want to launch an ICBM?"
"Fuck no, it might hit the ring. It's too pretty to screw up like that."
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:12 PM on November 20, 2009


... and in the darkness bind them.
posted by joe lisboa at 9:31 PM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


would be moving to Ecuador...
posted by maortiz at 9:50 PM on November 20, 2009


If Earth's gravity had broken up the moon it might have a ring.

But then we'd have no tides, and then things would start to get ugly.
posted by bwg at 1:31 AM on November 21, 2009


The size of the rings was calculated respecting the Roche limit for the Earth.

DAMN STRAIGHT
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:13 AM on November 21, 2009


Imagine the insane weather a ring system would generate.
posted by enkiwa at 10:29 AM on November 23, 2009


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